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What Is a Burner Phone?

Green push-button mobile phone on a white background. The mobile phone is at a 45 degree angle.

What Is a Burner Phone?

Key Points

  • A burner phone is a prepaid phone that is used temporarily and then discarded, often for privacy reasons.
  • Burner phones can be used as emergency backup phones or to have a separate phone number.
  • They can help address privacy concerns and allow users to stay under the radar.
  • Burner phones are affordable and don’t require credit checks, but may have limited features and usage restrictions.

A burner phone is basically a prepaid phone with a bad reputation. They’ve been a popular topic in the media for a variety of reasons, but they are also something anyone can find useful. Are you wondering what a burner phone is and if they are helpful? We will answer those questions, tell you how to get one, and talk about why the term itself tends to make people think of unscrupulous activities.

Burner Phones for Beginners

The term burner phone refers to any cell phone that’s used temporarily and tossed in the trash. More often than not, burner phones are prepaid phones through carriers that allow you to pay as you go. They are a popular choice because of privacy concerns.

When you purchase a prepaid phone, you can do so without showing identification. There’s obviously no contract, which means the paper trail is minimal. If someone wants to continue using a burner, they can buy more time for the phone. Otherwise, phones in this niche are generally used for a purpose, then broken or thrown in the trash.

If you live in a major city or watch enough television, it’s something you have probably seen before. It’s not always related to illegal activity, however. Privacy is a major concern for millions of people online, and a burner phone gives you a way to avoid some of those issues. Prepaid or burner phones are still used for their original purpose today as well.

Mobile burner phones for sale
Movies and TV would have us believe burner phones are only related to illegal activity, but they’re just prepaid phones.

Burner Phone Uses

Burner phones have been made popular by TV shows like The Wire, various political mishaps, and more broken marriages than we could possibly count. While it’s true these devices have often been used for nefarious purposes like the Dark Web or Ashley Madison, they are useful in other ways.

An Emergency Phone

Do you need a secondary cell phone as a backup in case you misplace yours? That’s one of the biggest reasons to buy a prepaid or “burner” phone if you already have a smartphone. It’s not uncommon to find prepaid devices in vehicles or in homes for that reason alone.

Landlines aren’t as popular as they used to be. If your smartphone gives out, you’re stuck until you can get a replacement unless you have a backup. It’s not a fun situation to be in and can leave you in a serious pickle. Prepaid phones solve that problem, but are also ideal if you need a separate phone number in the States.

A Secondary Phone Number

Dual-SIM phones are popular globally and let you use two phone numbers from one device, although it’s not common in the U.S. A burner phone is a fantastic workaround. You may think having two phone numbers would be an issue, but it can actually save you from a lot of headaches.

Have problems with telemarketers or bill collectors? Burner phones can address those concerns, as long as they don’t have your primary phone number. They are also useful if you do a lot of shopping online or social media due to their sandboxed nature.

Whatever you do on a burner phone has no impact on any other devices you use unless you choose to link accounts or information. From side hustles like eBay to dealing with a divorced spouse, don’t underestimate how useful a second phone number can be.

Privacy Concerns

If you’re concerned about someone tracking you through your smartphone, you are not alone. While handy, they can tell the world what you’re doing at any time and give out your location. It’s not an issue if you like to stay connected on social media, but that’s not the case for everyone.

Having a burner phone can eliminate some of the common privacy concerns that come with using a traditional smartphone. Do you want to stay under the radar during a local protest for an issue you care about?

A burner phone allows you to do that, but they are also ideal for folks who live the off-the-grid type of lifestyle. Phone tracking has increased significantly in recent years, and using a burner takes one unique identifier out of the equation.

Young beautiful woman using burner phone to conceal her internet and other activities on social media
Criminal mastermind, political activist, or online shopper?

The Pros and Cons of a Burner Phone

Now that we’ve answered what is a burner phone, we are going to take a look at the pros and cons. A burner phone isn’t typically considered an investment, but you’ll want to think about these areas before picking one up.

Burner Phone Pros

The biggest perk of a burner phone for the average consumer is the price. We’ve seen them as cheap as $20, although you’ll pay more if it has smart features. Most phones in this class are fairly basic in that regard, aside from exceptions through larger companies like Boost and Cricket.

The plans attached to the phones are also affordable. Prepaid cards are the best way to keep things completely private when it’s time to top off, and not having to deal with contracts is a huge advantage. You can stop using a burner phone on a prepaid plan whenever you like. There is no contract unless you choose to sign one.

Do you have poor credit? That’s not a problem with prepaid phones. There are no credit checks, making them an attractive option for people with no credit or a poor score. Prepaid or burner phones are also popular with students as a low-cost alternative to smartphones with contracts.

It’s also important to realize that all burner phones aren’t dumb phones. That used to be the case, and while they are still popular, you can get prepaid smartphones from most carriers. In other words, you don’t have to rock a dated device if you decide to buy a burner.

Burner Phone Cons

Burner phones can be useful, but they aren’t without faults. The biggest problem is tied to usage. If you think you’ll talk on the phone frequently or use a lot of data, they are not the best choice. People don’t buy burners to watch YouTube videos, and the operating cost can be significant with heavy usage.

Before settling on a prepaid phone or plan, check on rollover minutes. Those minutes are any that aren’t used within a set time period, which varies from one carrier to the next. You could get to keep them and “roll” them over, but it’s not uncommon to have minutes and data expire after a few months.

The other issue with burners is phone selection. That’s not a problem if you just want a cheap backup phone, but the selection is sparse. Many phones are light on features, with mediocre cameras and underwhelming processors as well.  

Burner Phone Recommendations

You can find burner phones at gas stations and corner stores around the world, but you can also pick them up online. It’s obviously not the best choice if you want a phone that isn’t tied to you in any way, but for everyone else, it’s where you’ll get the best deals.

Alcatel MyFlip 4G

Reliable and Popular
TracFone Carrier-Locked Alcatel MyFlip 4G Prepaid Phone
$74.99
  • 4GB onboard storage
  • Expandable storage through an SD card slot
  • 2.8-inch inner display
  • Sim card included
  • Compatible with CDMA networks
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/29/2024 05:57 pm GMT

TracFone is a popular choice for people in need of a prepaid phone, and the MyFlip 4G from Alcatel is a fantastic choice. It’s a basic phone, sans any bells and whistles, and it’s ready to go through one of the carrier’s prepaid plans.

The MyFlip is a solid little cell phone that provides users with around 6 hours of talk time. Standby time is close to 14 days. This 4G handset works on for TracFone’s CDMA network and comes complete with a SIM card. While this phone can’t hang with any flagship devices, the specs aren’t bad for this class.

A 2MP rear camera allows you to snap photos with the MyFlip, which has 4GB of onboard storage. It’s expandable through an SD card slot, but there’s only 512MB of RAM. A quad-core processor powers the phone, and the inner 2.8-inch display is easy to navigate. You’ll also appreciate the secondary display, which provides key information with a quick glance.

This burner phone isn’t the fastest or the cheapest, but it is very reliable and popular with consumers. The Alcatel MyFlip 4 is the perfect choice for a backup phone, although you’ll need to choose one of the carrier’s plans, which start at $19.99. 

Motorola Moto G Pure

Excellent Value
SIMPLE Mobile Motorola Moto G Pure Prepaid Smartphone (Locked)
$49.99
  • 32GB onboard storage
  • Battery lasts up to 2 days
  • 6.5-inch display
  • 5MP front-facing camera
  • GSM, LTE compatible
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
02/29/2024 06:08 pm GMT

It can be hard to transition to a regular cell phone from a smartphone, but you don’t have to with SIMPLE Mobile. The carrier has a variety of cheap smartphones, but the Moto G Pure from Motorola provides a lot of bang for your buck.

With a 6.5-inch display, the Moto G Pure gives users a big display for a low price. While the resolution is 720 x 1,600, it’s responsive and vibrant with a respectable screen-to-body ratio. It’s nimble thanks to an octa-core processor and 3 GB of RAM. Storage capacity is poor at 32GB, but expandable and it has a 13MP rear camera along with a 2MP sensor for depth.

You can also take selfies with this burner through a 5MP front-facing camera. It has a classic 3.5mm headphone jack, and the connectivity options are solid. You’ll get Bluetooth 5.0, dual-band Wi-Fi, and a fingerprint scanner on the rear. While the 4,000mAh battery isn’t removable, the battery life is solid as long as you don’t go heavy with media or apps.

SIMPLE Mobile doesn’t have the name recognition of brands like Cricket or TracFone, but the carrier has become popular for its smartphone selection. SIMPLE is based on the T-Mobile network, so coverage is just as solid as the phone. The Moto G Pure is a great choice for a smart “burner” phone and not one you’ll want to necessarily toss in the bin.

The Wrap-Up

As you can see, the term burner phone simply refers to prepaid phones. The moniker makes people think these phones are only used for criminal purposes, but that isn’t the case at all. A burner phone can help you stay off the radar, but it’s also a great option for anyone needing an affordable backup phone.

  1. TracFone Carrier-Locked Alcatel MyFlip 4G Prepaid Phone
    $74.99
    • 4GB onboard storage
    • Expandable storage through an SD card slot
    • 2.8-inch inner display
    • Sim card included
    • Compatible with CDMA networks
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    02/29/2024 05:57 pm GMT
  2. SIMPLE Mobile Motorola Moto G Pure Prepaid Smartphone (Locked)
    $49.99
    • 32GB onboard storage
    • Battery lasts up to 2 days
    • 6.5-inch display
    • 5MP front-facing camera
    • GSM, LTE compatible
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    02/29/2024 06:08 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

Do burner phones require a plan?

No, you just need prepaid minutes, although many carriers also offer plans.

Is there a difference between burner phones and prepaid phones?

No, the only difference is if usage. It’s only a burner if you intend to discard the phone after using it, which isn’t the case with most people.

How much should a burner phone cost?

You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 to more than $50, depending on the type of phone.

Do the minutes on burner phones expire?

Typically, yes, but not always. You’ll need to check with the carrier to see if your mobile minutes will roll over or expire.

Are burner phones legal to own?

Yes, there are no laws against burner phones, considering it’s a term that generally refers to prepaid devices.

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